When you dunk a biscuit, do you just briefly introduce the biscuit to the tea in passing? Or do you give it a really good soaking? Or somewhere in between?
A friend once asked me – you’ll have heard me say this one before – “with God, are you a weekday friend or a Sunday acquaintance?” He was speaking of the place of faith and God in our lives.
By and large, English people are very good at not talking about things that are really important to us! There is also a tendency to understatement. My very Irish friend frequently remarks on this with laughter. “How’s your day going?” she might ask me. On particularly fraught days, the reply is usually, “Interesting.”
We understand our own culture because it is the ‘yoghurt’ we all inhabit, so to speak. But a different culture can seem very challenging, even threatening, simply because it is unfamiliar.
So to talk about God and faith is very natural to certain cultures and races and nationalities. But less so for the white English. And this puts us very much at a disadvantage – both in our own lives, and in sharing something so vital with our friends and with our children.
Here’s an example. We often bewail the generational decline in church attendance. But the older generations are faithful attenders, there each Sunday, quietly praying and doing. And often they will take that quiet praying and doing into their daily lives, as unobtrusively and invisibly as possible. And they simply do not talk about it. Ever. Not to their friends, not to their children.
And so those friends and those children may observe that a person goes to church, but they will have no understanding of why. Of the relationship that person has with God through prayer and worship. How God has sustained them through the bad times and blessed them in so many ways. How could they possibly know? We don’t talk about it!
But we talk about Line of Duty. And Strictly. And Bake Off. All of which are very entertaining! And fun is vital in life! But none of those are likely to completely transform our inner selves or how we relate to each other and the world around us.
When we don’t talk about things that matter, or why they matter, others will not understand, and they will ignore it. It is unimportant to them, because they have no connection. If I tell my daughter to tidy up, she likely won’t do it and won’t care. But if I explain to her why things being tidy helps mummy be calmer and more organised and happier, then she will care, and she will tidy her bits and pieces – realising that she will probably be calmer and more organised too.
Communication matters. As does connection and reiteration, in ordinary and subtle everyday ways. Things that are ingrained in us will naturally flow out from us too, if we let them.
The readings for this Sunday are about the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and Jesus telling his disciples to abide in him. The Greek word for baptism actually means to immerse something. To submerge it. To dunk it thoroughly and completely so it’s soaking wet.
Imagine a towel, dropped in the bath and then hauled out. Unless you wring it out, you’re going to end up with a lot of water on the bathroom floor!
Or dunking your favourite biscuit in the tea. Unwary handling leads to quite a bit of biscuit falling back in!
If we take that as a metaphor for our faith, and for our lives in Christ, that would mean that going to church each Sunday is like being re-dunked in the tea / bath / source of life, love and blessing that is the Holy Spirit.
It would also mean that we will be dripping that Spirit around in a little trail behind us wherever we go in the days that follow, before our next re-dunking.
I am absolutely NOT talking about being the kind of people who you can’t have a conversation with without them hammering on about God. That’s the equivalent of shouting at my daughter to tidy up OR ELSE!! In my experience, it’s hardly likely to get any kind of positive response.
But I am talking about making God such a normal and everyday part of our lives that it is not awkward or hard to say “thank you” out loud for something, or to ask for God’s help in the tough moments of the day. Making God someone we do talk about, rather than a secret. Just like we talk about the neighbours, and our friends, and all the other little things in our lives.
Because above all, God cares about those little things. And he wants to share them with you, there and then, however messy. Not just to have it saved up for Sundays, and always neat and tidy. He wants to be that weekday friend… But will we let him?